After a stay of execution afforded to him in the aftermath of the defeats to Ecuador and Argentina in the last batch of World Cup qualifiers, Claudio Borghi knew he and his Chilean side had to deliver a performance of significant improvement in the friendly with Serbia.
Ninety torrid minutes later and Borghi had departed, or has he told the media sacked. Ninety insipid minutes; the match clock not acting as a timer for the game but a countdown until La Roja were Borghi-less, something which fans up and down the Chilean peninsula were eager to see.
The players constantly told any media outlet that would listen about their admiration and respect for Borghi; they insisted they wanted him to stay; they wanted to play for him. During those ninety woeful minutes there were no signs that signified those claims.
Sergio Jadue and the ANFP remained positive in their support for the coach. Well, at least in public. There were rumours that a poor performance would be the end of him. And so it proved.
I wrote a piece on the situation last month and was of the understanding that he’d be given until March when the next batch of qualifiers would be played.
Many of the points still stand; from his strained relationship with the media to indiscipline to tactics and player choice that appeared in Switzerland against Serbia.
As we will soon discover the players themselves have to take a share of the blame as Alexis Sánchez would say after the sacking. Many are playing at top clubs in Europe or South America but all too often deliver uninspiring performances.
So in Borghi’s final stand what did we learn?
Slow and Disjointed
One of the most distinctive changes from Marcelo Bielsa to Claudio Borghi has been the speed of attacks. Under Bielsa Chile were open at the back but teams struggled to exploit this weakness due to the ferocity of pressure and pressing La Roja exerted.
Borghi reigned in the organised chaos, giving more importance to a number 10 or ‘enganche’ as they are called in his native Argentina. There is more patience in the play but also less ball pressure when the opposition have possession and the team did not look like a unit, more like three different entities.
The first 25-30 minutes was as bad as Chile have been under Borghi. They pressed goal kicks so Serbia went long. But it worked to their advantage as if they didn’t win the header they’d win the second ball and Chile failed to apply suitable pressure. Radoslav Petrovic had acres of space in front of the defence to ignite attacks and Alexandr Kolarov as always pushed forward from left-back. Manuel Iturra was the right-side midfielder in the 3-4-1-2. Normally a conservative central midfielder he struggled to track Kolarov’s runs.
La Roja were lucky to only be trailing 1-0.
The performance picked up towards the end of the half as Chile moved the ball quicker; pass; one touch then pass; two touch then pass. There was no holding on to the ball for too long, looking to take on the Serbians independently. It was helped with Ángelo Henríquez replacing the injured Alexis Sánchez; the Manchester United striker a player who keeps the ball moving as he looks for space in the attacking third.
Before, the ball was moved with little purpose, intelligence or incision, allowing the Serbian midfield to retreat into a five-man midfield wall goal side of possession. Serbia struggled with quick passing that forced them to turn.
But an early second half goal and Chile unravelled.
Big players, small performances
As stated earlier in the article Chile’s players have to take responsibility. For too long under Borghi ‘big’ players have delivered small performances; none more so of late than Arturo Vidal, dubbed Mr Jekyll when playing for Juventus and Mr Hyde when in the red of Chile by a section of the Italian media.
Vidal is not the dynamic player you see tear up Serie A; winning tackles, advancing into the penalty box unseen and scoring goals. Similar to his performance against Serbia he has often been passive, lost or confused since returning from the ban for an off the field discretion. His recent travails with Chile were summed up by his horrific challenge on Petrovic.
For Gary Medel. Read Arturo Vidal. Another nondescript performance from the Sevilla pitbull.
Moving further forward and Matiás Fernández, a lovely player too watch, seems to have shrunk under added creative responsibility. Since the infamous defeat to Argentina at the start of the qualifiers when he started alongside Jorge Valdivia behind TWO strikers, Fernández has been the first choice number 10.
Easily one of the most gifted players in the squad – remember he is a former South American player of the year – his penchant for effortless creativity, making the game seem as easy, while those around him charge about at a hundred mile an hour trying to keep with him, has been replaced by ineffectiveness. In Wednesday’s game, like recent games before, when he received the ball there was no urge to rise from your seat because something special was about to occur. His performance was mundane. Vanilla. With Fernández that should not be.
Lastly, Alexis Sánchez. Poor for Barcelona, poor for Chile. Granted he was asked to furrow all alone in Ecuador as the main striker but in the main he has flattered to deceive; his performances resembling those that Udinese fans witnessed when he first arrived in Europe. It’s as if he feels that he should be doing it all by himself because he plays for Barcelona. Too often he’ll dribble in field or back out to the wing but taking Chile nowhere, finishing with a side way pass when it would have sufficed 30 seconds earlier.
These players should feel remorse simply because they played nowhere near their potential or current club form. Yet, as a team Chile have lacked cohesion. Individuals, not eleven brothers in arms. That is where Borghi should be criticised.
Mediocre players, mediocre performances
At least with the players mentioned you know they possess talent. But for others you wonder why they are in the squad; namely Jean Beausejour and Gonzalo Jara.
The defence as a whole failed to work together as a unit but in Jara they had the games worst performer. And that is saying a lot. He didn’t just contribute to a poor performance; he took it to a new level of incompetence.
La Roja were vulnerable down the left throughout and it is no surprise that Jara was the left of the three-man backline and Beausejour the left-midfielder. Beausejour does not contribute offensively or defensively and Jara’s performance was summed up when he tried to pass the ball infield, found a Serbian player and they went through on goal but somehow failed to go ahead.
Ángelo and Felipe
It is not all doom and gloom. There were positives to take from such an inept performance. It was two substitutes that provided them. First up: the already mentioned Ángelo Henríquez. He has been performing well in the youth and reserve sides of Manchester United, but he should be playing first team football somewhere. His ability was again evident against Serbia. He combines hard-work and team play with ruthlessness in and around the box.
It is refreshing and encouraging to see a player so young work so hard in both offensive and defensive phases of play. Out of possession he buzzes about the pitch, the ball always on his mind. At times he is almost too eager to help out leading him to drop far too deep and leave the team without an attacking focal point. But when his team have the ball he is always on the move looking for space, if not to receive the ball then open up gaps for team mates. When he’s passed the ball he’ll do one of two things: look towards goal and score or keep the ball moving and then try to get in an even better position to get it again. Then there is his goal scoring prowess, an eclectic mix of goals; the one against Serbia a simple header.
Henríquez showed a promising understanding with another sub, Felipe Gutiérrez. Gutiérrez is still only 23-years-old and currently playing with Twente in the Netherlands, epitomising the quality in the duo that even at such young ages they can form an attacking partnership in such a short time while experienced team mates trundled along.
A very different type of player to Henríquez, Gutiérrez is an artisan. He combines an old school number 10 with dynamic qualities that will help him succeed in Europe. He came on and made an instant impression flashing a shot past the far post. A noticeable quality his is thought process on the ball. Everything is quick and precise. If he holds onto the ball for a longer period of time you know he’ll have something planned.
The names linked to the post are an idealists dream; Jorge Sampaoli, Gerardo Martino, Marcelo Bielsa and Pep Guardiola.
You can score-out two of those names from the offset as Sampaoli seems like the frontrunner after the marvellous job he has carried out at Universidad de Chile. But if not Sampaoli then whoever the new incumbent will be – likely to be announced in December – has a few things to sort out before March and the meetings with Peru and Uruguay.
La Roja need to be reconnected with the identity given to them by Bielsa. There best performances have been when they play at ferocious pace, teams struggle to live with him. The defence is the main weakness. They could shut up shop and protect it with a deep and compact midfield, but do they possess the players to do so? Instead, attack teams with the attitude ‘we will score more than you’.
The cohesion between defence and midfield and midfield and attack needs to return. Recently there have been three separate factions in one team. Borghi was always known as a laid-back coach; the funny uncle rather than the strict dad.
Time needs to be spent on the training ground instilling a better shape to the team, allowing them to attack from a variety of positions and a better defesnive structure when possession is ceded, rather than giving players days off before crucial qualifying matches.
The players could do their part as well. Starting by cutting out the stupidity on and off the field.
Now we wait . . .
Serbia 3-1 Chile